The mood at the Consumer Portrait symposium, organised by research firm, IMRB International on February 20 was more positive than gloomy. Marketers and sociologists agreed that there was significant opportunity in the economic slowdown in India.
The second annual event had presentations from IMRB on how the small towns had taken centre stage, whether as consumers or sportspersons, and how consumers received and decoded communication.
Harjyoti Ghai, group business director, IMRB International dwelled on the confidence of the Twenty-20 generation emerging from the smaller towns of India, Ashutosh Sinha, senior vice president, IMRB International talked about how consumers received and decoded information. He gave examples of the Camlin Permanent Marker advertisement, which to the non-expectations of the IMRB team, was received well by the viewers. He spoke about the various emotions an advertisement created in the consumer and how advertisements could be used effectively.
There was also a panel discussion, which discussed how marketers could help overcome the economic slowdown blues. On the panel were Colvyn Harris, CEO, JWT; sociologist, Dr M N Panini; Debashis Sarkar, senior director and chief marketing officer, Max New York Life; and Deepika Warrier, director, marketing, Pepsico India. The discussion was moderated by Sreekant Khandekar, director, Banyan Netfaqs!.
Speaking first, Harris said that economic slowdown should be taken as an opportunity by both clients and advertisers "to talk to the customer more during tough times". At a time when customer loyalty is under pressure, consumers are simply looking for reassurance. "Consumers are more receptive to advertising as a service than an interruption... Communication needs to shift from being transactional to relational," he said.
He added that technology could be useful here and both the mobile and the Internet could come handy. "Mobile is a convergence device of the future. It provides enough measurement today from the demography to the psychography of the person. There could be better targeting with these tools through Blue-casting and WAP," he said.
Panini spoke about opportunities for entrepreneurship inspired by the new model of innovations, such as Nano cars being built on open-system clusters. He said that the Internet model could be imbibed in the real world as well. He gave an example of a slum cluster in Delhi, where a list of skilled craftsmen and labour was circulated around in the neighbourhood. That worked as a search engine going to the surfer itself and improved the social life of the slum area. He talked about vernacularisation - a derogatory term used by the British for the native languages. But, he said, that today, vernacularisation refers to both the emergence of the vernacular and of its infusion into the elite languages.
Sarkar said that the economic downturn offered opportunities to understand the customer better. The time, he said, was not to over-promise, but to speak the truth. He said that human beings were not new to downturns, such as a failure in school, failure in love and so on; yet, they saw opportunity in it to learn from the incident and move on. Similarly, the economic downturn has come as a boon to acquire new customers from other segments.
"You may have not broadened your horizon. But your brand could be relevant to a new segment, such as small towns. Even some brands could be missing on the opportunity and taking the economic slowdown negatively. It was time that you latched on to the given opportunity by the other brand," he said.
The key for the brands, he said, was to stick to the basics of "samajhdari, imandari, bharosemandi, umeed, atmavishwaas, saralta, khushi, dostana, vijay and bhavishya".
Meanwhile, Warrier said that unlike most other categories, FMCG has remained unaffected, and instead, has grown. She said that in good times, FMCG had lost most of the "good talent" to other sectors. But since FMCG was growing even during tough times, the sector is "getting back its best talent."
The key to remain afloat during the recessionary times, she said was "innovation". She also warned marketers to be prepared for changes in consumer spending habits. "The tough times may last for a year or two, or even more than that. This period is certainly going to change the spending habits of the consumer, even after the tough times get over. They'll be more cautious and marketers have to be prepared for that," she said.